In 2017 Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico. With winds over 155 mph, the storm cut off 95% of power and cell service on the island.
Three years later, tens of thousands of homes remain uninhabitable, their roofs covered in blue plastic. Many people are still homeless, and damage is still visible everywhere. Life hasn’t returned to normal for many, including Monica Ramirez, a medical student who lives in Ponce, the island’s second-largest city, which was one of the places most affected.
“In Ponce, we are still suffering the repercussions from that hurricane,” she said, noting the storm-damaged roof of her community’s recreational building still has not been repaired. “It’s been years and I feel like Puerto Rico was neglected in the sense of aid. We are very distraught about the storm.”
Three years later, the 2020 hurricane season has again hammered both the Caribbean and the mainland United States. It will also have consequences for thousands who attempt to recover before the next season begins. Currently, 31 named storms, five of which were major (category 3 or higher) hurricanes, have set records. Even though the season officially ends November 30, powerful storms can still develop after that. Exact predictions for future seasons are uncertain.
To read the first part of this series, click here.
Climate scientists agree: warming oceans due to climate change will cause catastrophic consequences for years to come. Florida International University earth and environment professor Hugh Willoughby has been studying the dynamics of hurricane motion through his own theoretical models since the late 1970s. He has performed over 400 flights into hurricanes.
The ocean’s temperature has risen 1.1 degrees Fahrenheit in the past 135 years, Willoughby said, adding that “as the planet warms, we’ll have more intense hurricanes but not necessarily more hurricanes.”
When the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season started, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimated it would produce 13 to 19 named storms, 6 to 10 hurricanes, and 3 to 6 major hurricanes. The forecasters gave this season a 60% chance to be above the average of 12 storms, 6 hurricanes, and 3 major hurricanes.
The first storm of the season was Arthur, which formed as a depression on May 16, north of the Bahamas. This storm set a record for one of the earliest formations in the Atlantic since 1938. It caused $120,000 in damage in Florida as winds and rains extended outwards. It approached the North Carolina coast with gusty wind and torrential rain.
The strongest storm this season was Hurricane Laura. It formed off the coast of Africa on Aug. 20. As it moved into the gulf, it intensified to a category 4 hurricane before hitting Louisiana. It shattered a record for the fastest wind speed at 150 mph to hit the state since data began being recorded in 1851. This storm caused 16 tornadoes, severe flooding, and structural damage. The Capital One Tower in Lake Charles, Louisiana had a large portion of its windows blown out due to the wind. In total, it caused more than $14 Billion in damage.
Tropical Storm Beta became the 23rd named storm of the season, using the second letter of the Greek alphabet. This is the second time in history the Greek alphabet has been used to name storms — it is employed only after the list of names for the season has been exhausted.
The storm left more than 10 million people under severe flood warnings along the gulf coast from Texas to Louisiana. The storm made landfall on September 22, on the Matagorda Peninsula in Texas, reaching max sustained winds of 58 mph. Rainfall of over 10 inches caused more than 100,000 gallons of wastewater to spill in Houston. Over 100 water rescues were conducted in Southern Harris County on Tuesday, Sept. 22.
By Oct. 3, a record-breaking 24 storms had already formed.
Hurricane Delta formed in the Caribbean on Oct. 5 as the 26th named storm of the season. It rapidly strengthened to a Category 4, then lost intensity when it approached Puerto Morelos, Mexico with wind speeds of 110 mph. Before landfall, 5000 soldiers were deployed to help evacuate over 41,000 tourists. It caused moderate damage to the power grid.
Delta continued tracking across the gulf losing intensity due to wind shear. It crashed into Creole, Louisiana, the same area that Laura hit, with winds of 100 mph. Nearly 740,000 people lost power in the region. Multiple vehicles were overturned on Interstate 10 due to the extreme weather. Many structures previously flooded by Laura were inundated again, causing a prolonged cleanup effort. The storm lingered until Oct. 10, dissipating inland around Mississippi.
Hurricane Eta formed on Oct. 31 near the Lesser Antilles. The storm strengthened before landfall in Nicaragua as a Category 4 storm. Around 160 deaths were reported in Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico and Panama. About 40 inches of rain led to deadly landslides, causing residents to climb onto their roofs for rescue. The storm took an erratic turn north, passing over Cuba and clipping South Florida with tropical-storm-force winds. Eta caused moderate power outages and lots of flooding.
South Florida resident Jose Gomez and his colleagues were working a busy shift during peak hours at Dolphin Mall on Monday, Nov. 15 when they needed to leave the store to pick up merchandise from a storage unit on NW 109th Street. A trip that usually takes about 30 minutes, but that day it took them over two hours to complete, leaving the store understaffed, due to severe flooding in the area.
“All of the paths were completely flooded,” said Gomez. “A cargo truck ahead of us got stuck in the flood because it was too deep to drive through. The wheels of the truck were about halfway submerged. The water would completely drown the engine of our sedan.”
Hurricane Iota, the record-breaking 30th storm of the season, made landfall as a category 4 storm with sustained winds of 130 mph, in Central America on Tuesday, November 17.
None of the storms this year, though, have hit as hard as Maria, which struck a hammer blow to Puerto Rico in 2017. Monica Ramirez, the medical student living in Ponce, where Hurricane Maria tore through mercilessly, said some areas still look the same as they did when the hurricane hit. “You can still see tarps on roofs and a lot of abandoned warehouses and businesses… you can still see the impact that this hurricane had like [uprooted] trees thrown on the side of the road. It’s heartbreaking”
Ramirez said there are still power outages because power lines remain damaged. “The electricity does fluctuate… for this semester we’ve lost electricity three times already, not due to any big storm, just some light rain,” said Ramirez. “The electricity here is still very unstable, unfortunately… it’s very hard to get work done, it’s very hard not to get distracted.”